Sparkfun’s AVC 2014: Robots, Copters, and Red Balloons of Death, Oh My!

SparkFunAVC2014

Registration is open for Sparkfun’s 2014 Autonomous Vehicle Competition (AVC)! Every year the fine folks at Sparkfun invite people to bring their robots, rovers, and drones  to Colorado to see who is the king of the hill – or reservoir as the case may be. We see plenty of robots here at Hackaday, but precious few of them are autonomous. To us that means capable of completing complex tasks without human intervention. Sparkfun has spent the last five years working toward changing that. Each year the robots get more complex and complete increasingly difficult tasks.

The competition is essentially a race through the Boulder reservoir. Time is key, though there are multiple ways to gain bonus points. For aerial vehicles there are two classes: fixed and rotary wing. Planes fall under the fixed wing category. Helicopters, gyrocopters, tricopters, quadcopters, and beyond fall into rotary wing. We’re holding out hope that e-volo shows up with their Octadecacopter. Ground vehicles have a few more class options. Micro/PBR class is for robots with a build cost less than $350 total, or small enough to fit into box that’s 10″x6″x4″. The doping class is unlimited. Sparkfun even mentions costs over $1kUSD+, and weights over 25LBS. Non-Traditional Locomotion class is for walkers, WildCats and the like. Peloton is Sparkfun’s class for robots that don’t fit into the other classes.

Sparkfun is also making a few changes to the course this year. A white chalk line will be drawn through the course, so robots don’t have to rely on GPS alone for navigation. We’re hoping to see at least a few vision systems using that chalk line. Aerial robots will have to contend with three “Red Balloons of Death”. Robots can navigate around the balloons without penalty. The balloons can be bumped or even popped for bonus points, but the robot must do this with its own body. Projectile weapons are not allowed. To say we’re excited about the AVC would be an understatement. As much as we enjoy watching the big players at competitions like the DARPA Robotics Challenge, we love seeing individuals and small teams of hobbyists compete every year at the AVC. Click on past the break for Sparkfun’s AVC 2013 wrap up video.

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Omnidirectional Robot Takes on a Candy Factory

OmniRobot

[AltaPowderDog] is building a competition robot as part of his freshman engineering course at Ohio State University. The contest is sponsored by Nestle, so it’s no surprise the robots have to perform various tasks in a miniature candy factory. Broken up into teams of four, the students are building autonomous robots to move pallets, scoop candy, operate switches and pull pins from tubes. Each team is provided a standard microcontroller board and funds to purchase robot parts from an online store. The factory also sports an overhead infrared navigation system, which should help the robots stay on track.

[AltaPowderDog] took his inspiration from [Michal’s] OmniBot, which used adjustable geometry wheels. A lever and gear system allows the robot to pivot all four wheels synchronously. This effectively allows the robot to turn within its own axis. With some proper path planning and end effector placement, [AltaPowderDog’s] team should be able to shave down their time through the candy factory. The team has run into a few issues though. This robot design only utilizes two powered wheels, which has caused the team to become stuck up on a ramp in the factory. To combat this, the team is installed a simple suspension which allows the non-powered wheels to move up and out of the way on the ramp. The results look promising. The video after the break includes a short clip of [AltaPowderDog’s] ‘bot making a quick turn and activating a switch. Very nice work!

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An autonomous boat across the Atlantic

While we may be waiting for unmanned drones to deliver a pizza, there’s already an unmanned ship plying the Atlantic on a transoceanic voyage. It’s called Scout, and it’s the product of about two years worth of work by a very close-knit group of friends.

Scout is a 12.5 foot ship constructed out of foam and carbon fiber loaded up with solar panels, electronics, an electric motor and a SPOT satellite tracker. The team has been working on Scout for the last two years now, and this last week the autonomous ship finally set out on its mission: a 3500 mile journey from Rhode Island across the Atlantic to Spain.

Right now, Scout is just over four days into its mission having travelled 90 miles from Rhode Island on its way to Spain. You can follow Scout on its journey on this very cool live tracking site.

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Autonomous RC car navigates by waypoints

autonomous-rc-car

Check out this autonomous RC car which [Jason] built for the chipKIT design challenge. It’s been able to successfully navigate a planned route taking just a few waypoints as inputs.

Obviously this uses a chipKIT as the controller, the max32 to be specific. [Jason’s] write-up shows off all of the components of the design, but you’ll have to head over to his recently posted update to hear about the custom board he had spun to host them all. It starts with a GPS module, but that’s only accurate enough to give the rover the big picture. To handle getting from one waypoint to the next successfully he also included a gyroscope which provides very accurate orientation data, as well as optical encoders on the wheels for on-board distance traveled information.

We hope he’ll keep refining the design and make a trip to next year’s Autonomous Vehicle Competition.

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Autonomous helicopter works like a Wii remote

autonomous-ir-helicopter

[Jack Crossfire] took one of those inexpensive indoor helicopters and made it autonomous. He didn’t replace the hardware used for the helicopter, but augmented it and patched into the remote control to make a base station.

The position feedback is provided in much the same way that the Wii remote is used as a pointing device. On the gaming console there is a bar that goes under the TV with two IR LEDs in it. This is monitored by an IR camera in the Wii remote and used to calculate where you’re pointing the thing. [Jack’s] auto-pilot system uses two Logitech webcams with IR filters over the sensors. You can see them mounted on the horizontal bar in the cutout above. The helicopter itself has an IR LED added to it that is always on. The base station follows this beacon by moving the cameras with a pair of servo motors, calculating position and using it when sending commands to the remote control’s PCB.

Don’t miss the demo video of the rig after the break.

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Toorcamp: MC Hawking Robotic Wheelchair

This is the MC Hawking robot built by the Noisebridge hackerspace in San Francisco. It’s a robotic electric wheelchair outfitted with a PC, an XBox Kinect, and an Arduino. On the software side, it uses Ubuntu and the open source ROS platform. A few folks from Noisebridge were hacking away on the robot at Toorcamp to add a robotic arm and other upgrades.

One goal of the project was to build a hardware platform that lets software hackers work on autonomous applications without having to delve in to the complexities of the hardware. Since an autonomous wheelchair could get dangerous, it clearly boasts that it does not behave by Asimov’s three laws.

An example of an autonomous application for the MC Hawking is a facial tracking. This uses the Kinect’s sensors to follow people around. The platform is now being used to develop the DORA Opensource Robot Assistant project, which hopes to use the robotic arm to grab a soda from the fridge 51 days from now.

[Jake] from Noisebridge pointed out that they are seeking people who are interested in working on the software side of the project. If you are in the Bay Area and haven’t visited Noisebridge, you need to. Check their website for lots of information on the group.

Check out a video of MC Hawking partying at Toorcamp after the break.

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Arduino rover evolves to a trike design

[Eduard Ros] wrote in to show off the latest version of his Arduino powered autonomous rover (translated). You may remember seeing the first version of the build back in June. It started with a remote control truck body, adding an Arduino and some ultrasonic sensors for obstacle avoidance.

The two big wheels and the pair of sensors look familiar, but most of the other components are a different from that version. The biggest change is the transition from four wheels to just three. This let him drop the servo motor which controlled steering. At first glance we though this thing was going to pop some mad wheelies, but the direction of travel actually drags the third wheel being the larger two. The motors themselves are different, this time depending on gear-reduced DC motors. The motor H-bridge is the same, but [Eduard] used a simple transistor-based inverter to reduce the number of pins needed to activate it from two down to just one. He also moved from an Arduino Uno to a Nano to reduce the footprint of the controller.